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Record World, November 26, 1966
"Mischief' Is A Melody Lode
NEW YORK -- Two of the city's most professional, enjoyable stage buys await discriminating theatergoers on East 74th St., almost directly across from each other: William Alfred's moving, dramatic "Hogan's Goat" and the recently arrived, delightfully melodic "Man With a Load of Mischief."
The latter, adapted from a play that lasted only a couple of weeks in 1925, could turn out to be another "Fantasticks," with its excellent press plus word-of-mouth help. Set in a Regency England highway inn, it scrambles with surprising little condescension the affairs of a gentleman who isn't a gentleman, a lackey who isn't a lackey, a lady who isn't a lady and a maid who isn't a maiden with grand comic style. (The big entrance at the start and a dinner scene are staged with an especially delicious bygone elegance.)
But the show's real strength--happily, in this musically stultifying integrated age--lies in its tunes. If anyone would fault the songs for not being integrated, it is because they stand out from the text, as a good song will, and can be recalled after the last bow. (What does "integrated musical" really mean, anyway? Personally, I've always felt that if boy meets girl and sings a song that is not about a water buffalo--and is a good song--well, that's integrated.)
At an opening week performance, "Man" was indeed carrying a Ioad--including reprises, I counted about two dozen musical numbers, most of them charming, although I could have done without the show stopping (in the worst sense) "Little Rag Doll." Notably pleasant were Reid Shelton's "Masquerade," the big commercial bet, and "Hulla Baloo Balay," a dramatic tour-de-force for the singer's admirable baritone; "Goodbye, My Sweet," 18th century Cole Porter, spiritedly rendered by Virginia Vestoff; "Once You've Had A Little Taste," in the "Night They Invented Champagne" bag but with its own bubbly as sung and danced by peppy Alice Cannon; and "Romance!," pure operetta, by the whole company of six.
Tom Gruenewald has directed the cast better by scene; and while they are, not all yet comfortable with the graceful attitudes, (years of Actors Studio prevailing can't be untaught in a few weeks of rehearsal). They are a lively, vocal lot and should be more at home in their roles soon.
But the evening belongs to composers John Clifton and Ben Tarver (the last named gets book and co-lyricist credit). They are helping to keep music alive in the theater, and should be encouraged by at least one visit to the Jan Hus Playhouse by all who can make it.